Climate changeEnergy

Climate change is a problem of infrastructure

Most of America’s 107,000 gas stations have several pumps that can fill many cars every five or ten minutes. In the case of electric vehicle chargers, this is not the case – at least not yet. There are approximately 43,000 public Electric Vehicle charging stations in the United States, with approximately 106,000 outlets. Each outlet can only charge one car at the moment, and even fast-charging sites take an hour to offer a charge of 180-240 miles; most take much longer.

For many purposes, the present network is enough. However, chargers are sparsely dispersed; California accounts for nearly a 1/3 of all outlets. Long excursions, such as the 550 miles of sparsely trafficked desert roadway between Reno and the Salt Lake City, are difficult for EVs. One cause why the electric vehicles account for less than 1% of passenger vehicles in the United States is “range anxiety” associated with longer trips.

This inequitable and inadequate charging infrastructure is a key impediment to the fast electrification of the US car fleet, which is necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. It’s also a prime illustration of how changing climate is an infrastructure problem.

The United States has established transportation, heating, cooling, manufacturing, and agriculture systems that predominantly rely on fossil fuels over many decades. As the recent assessment from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on the Climate Change shows, the greenhouse gas emissions released by those fossil fuels when burned have elevated global temperature by around 1.1°C (2°F), with major effects on human lives and livelihoods.

The new assessment, like its predecessor, the Special Report on the Global Warming of 1.5°C, demonstrates that limiting future climate change and its most harmful consequences will necessitate a rapid transition away from fossil fuels and toward renewable, sustainable energy sources like wind, solar, and tidal power.

That requires rethinking how people use energy, including how they move, where they make the manufactured goods, and how food is grown. For the past 120 years, gas-powered automobiles with internal combustion engines (ICE) have dominated American road transportation. As America built out a statewide system to accommodate automobiles fueled by fossil fuels, that’s a long period for path reliance to build in.

Gas stations are merely the terminals of a vast network that includes oil wells, pipelines, tankers, refineries, and tank trucks – a self-contained energy production as well as distribution infrastructure that also serves heating oil, shipping, manufacturing, agriculture, air travel, and electric power generation. A typical gas-powered vehicle would not make it from Reno to the Salt Lake City without it.

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